Cancer Is Causing 'Financial Toxicity' in US

Rising treatment costs result in patients burning through their life savings quickly
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2024 5:00 PM CDT
Cancer's Unspoken Side Effect: 'Financial Toxicity'
The rising cost of cancer treatments is causing financial toxicity.   (Getty / jittawit.21)

"Cutting back on meds. Cutting back on doctor visits. Losing your home. Cutting back on food—these are not things that we want to believe happen to people with cancer in this country." That's the deep type of financial stress that radiation oncologist Dr. Reshma Jagsi tells the Wall Street Journal that more and more Americans are being saddled with after receiving cancer diagnoses. The Journal says that this reality is becoming increasingly common in the US for two reasons: people are getting cancer at younger ages, and the cost of treatments are going up.

  • Medical costs: More than half of new cancer drugs released between 2019 and 2023 cost $200,000 per year—minimum. In an opinion piece at STAT News, oncologist Ezekiel J. Emanuel cites an estimate of a $42,000 per year in medical costs in the year after diagnosis. Insurance helps, an estimated 40% of patients burn through their life savings in the first two years. Related expenses like travel, lodging, childcare, and time off work, also add up.
  • Financial toxicity: Shouldering the cost of cancer can cause so much stress, there's a name for it: financial toxicity. The burden snowballs when common issues arise, like the inability to work and loss of insurance—about 85% of cancer patients leave the workplace when treatment starts. But as Emanuel writes, much "of this financial toxicity, which is increasingly common, is occurring for patients with health insurance coverage."
  • Silver lining: Despite more working-age people receiving cancer diagnoses, advances in medicine have increased survival rates, with death rates declining by 27% over the past 20 years.
  • Crowdfunding for cures: To chip away at medical debt, many Americans turn to crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, where 40% of medical campaigns are cancer-related. And according to Cancer Health, one study found that only about 15% of those campaigns reached their financial goals. In all, $1.6 billion was raised through crowdfunding for cancer costs, averaging $7,860 per campaign. Emanuel's piece offers systemic suggestions within the health insurance industry.
(Blood proteins may represent a big jump forward in cancer prevention.)

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